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The Great Human Nature Debate
Rita Carter, Caspar Hewett, Thomas Pink and Kevin Yuill: 
The Great Human Nature Debate
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What can science tell us about human nature?
Bruce Charlton, Pauline Hadaway and Igor Aleksander
Darwinism without Darwinitis
Discussion following key note talk by Raymond Tallis on Darwinism without Darwinitis
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Previous Contributors to the Great Debate


Rita Carter

Rita Carter is a medical writer, contributing to, among others, the Independent, New Scientist, Daily Mail and Telegraph. She was twice awarded the Medical Journalists' Association prize for outstanding contribution to medical journalism.

An old friend of The Great Debate, Rita was on the panel of Evolution, Human Nature and Autonomy in March 2001; Whatever Happened to the Subject? in March 2004; the Battle of Ideas Great Debate The Rise and Rise of Evolutionary Psychology with Caspar Hewett in October 2005; The Great Human Nature Debate at Agents of Change? Darwinian Thought and Theories of Human Nature in October 2008; and Are we masters of our own destiny? as part of The Green Phoenix festival debate programme in August 2010.

Rita says:

'I believe we are determined because humans are part of the natural universe and (as far as we know) the natural universe is entirely governed by the laws of cause and effect. I see no reason why we should regard ourselves as somehow outside that framework - nor have I heard a convincing argument as to how we COULD be outside it.

'I therefore believe freewill is an illusion. The reason it is so utterly convincing is that the illusion - like the illusion that the objects around us are solid, or have some integral colour - is deeply wired into the brain as a set of mechanisms which automatically create the sense of self/ subjectivity and agency that makes it feel as though we decide what our acts will be rather than merely respond to stimuli. There is, I believe , evidence to show that this is the case: e.g. Libet's famous experiment showing that the brain begins an action before consciousness of it emerges. Neuroscience is also unravelling the mechanism of self and agency and these are now charted well enough for them to be copied in AI systems. These "self-sensing" robots will, I believe, develop the same sense of agency and subjectivity that Kenan Malik claims is unique to mankind and distinguishes us from machines.'

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Books by Rita Carter

The Brain Book by Rita Carter
The Brain Book by Rita Carter

In this all-singing all-dancing book of the brain Rita Carter lays out the working of the brain in a way that absolutely anyone can understand. It's a book to put on your coffee-table and flick through when you have sworn at the TV once too often for being stupid; to buy your bright niece for Christmas, and to consult whenever you think "why did I do THAT?" The book goes from fundamental anatomy through to the most up to date and brain imaging studies on subjects like the mechanics of emotion, empathy, morality and decision-making. It also has a comprehensive section on what can go wrong with the brain, and what happens to our brains - and thus our minds - as we age.

Multiplicity: The New Science of Personality by Rita Carter
Multiplicity: The New Science of Personality by Rita Carter

Multiplicity explains how personalities are made and kept separate in the human brain, how to discover it in yourself and how to recognise, identify and take control of your various personalities.

Beat Memory Loss: The Complete Guide to Making the Most of Your Memory

Beat Memory Loss: The Complete Guide to Making the Most of Your Memory by Rita Carter

Written as part of the 'Use Your Brain' series dealing with common psychological problems depression, anxiety, addiction and memory disorders. These books set out to explain the biological basis of the conditions what the brain itself is doing (or not doing) to produce them; they also go into some detail about available physical therapies. In addition to this, where appropriate, they provide do-it-yourself Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT).

Consciousness by Rita Carter

With contributions from:
Igor Aleksander, Susan J. Blackmore, David Chalmers, Daniel C. Dennett, Andrew Duggins, Chris Frith, Jeffrey Gray, Stuart Hameroff, Nicholas Humphrey, J. Kevin O'Regan, Jaak Panksepp, David Rosenthal, Alwyn Scott, John Searle, John Skoyles

Rita Carter ponders the nature, origins, and purpose of consciousness in this fascinating inquiry into the toughest problem facing modern science and philosophy. Building on the foundation of her bestselling book Mapping the Mind, she considers whether consciousness is merely an illusion, a by-product of our brain's workings, some as yet inexplicable feature or property of the material universe or--as the latest physics may suggest--the very fundament of reality. Little, she discovers, is as it first seems.

Carter draws from a solid body of knowledge--empirical findings and theoretical hypotheses--about consciousness, much of it derived from recent discoveries about the brain. Her lively, accessible narrative ranges widely over new ways of thinking about the subject and what direction new research is taking. Leading scholars from a range of perspectives provide topical essays that complement Carter's account. The book also discusses how traditional approaches--philosophical, scientific, and experiential--might be brought together to create a more complete understanding of consciousness.

Mapping the Mind by Rita Carter

In Mapping the Mind, the first illustrated guide to the brain, Rita Carter points to the latest developments in brain imaging to provide new insights into how the human brain works. She argues that brain scans can reveal our thoughts, memories and even our moods as clearly as X-rays reveal our bones.

Mapping the Mind attempts to chart how human behaviour and culture are shaped by the architecture of the brain. Rita Carter sees individual personalities as reflecting the geography of their particular brain and searches for the biological mechanisms which create our thoughts and emotions. This book is carefully researched and beautifully illustrated in full colour and provides a challenging picture of what makes a human mind, and comes to some contentious conclusions about human behaviour and free will.

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Useful Links

Amazon.co.uk: buy books by Rita Carter

Buy The Brain Book from Amazon

Buy Consciousness from Amazon

Buy Mapping the Mind from Amazon

The thinking machine John McCrone keeps an open mind as he reads Rita Carter's survey of the current state of play in the science of the brain, Consciousness

Exploring Consciousness: review by Amy Ione, Leonardo Digital Reviews

Why I wrote Mapping the Mind by Rita Carter

Conversation with Laura Lee

Our Brain Develops at Different Rates - part of the Accelerated Learning series

Tuning in to genius Thursday, 7 October, 1999

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